Characters: Hotch, Prentiss (Hotch/Prentiss if you squint a little)
Length: 1,600 words
Warnings: Non-graphic references to torture/abuse
Credits: Many thanks to my dear pixie_on_acid for helping me make sense of this.
Summary: Hotch needs help, whether he realizes it or not, and Emily wants to make sure he gets it.
A/N: I actually started out intending to write Hotch/Prentiss smut, as requested, but I just couldn’t do it. You see, the day before, I’d gotten a preview of the story I won in the Sweet Charity auction – a Criminal Minds/Without a Trace crossover by the afore-credited Pixie – and it just spoiled me for Emily pairings for a while. Emily and Martin Fitzgerald are my Crossover OTP of Gleee!
The team had an agreement: they wouldn't profile each other. In practical terms, that meant turning a blind eye to inconsistencies, to behavior that didn't correspond with what was said. If Hotch said he was fine, they were supposed to accept that he was fine, despite the shaking hands of the steadiest man any of them knew.
But now Emily knows something the others don't.
"Why didn't you tell us?" she asks, leaning back against his office door as she closes it. She tries to keep her voice neutral, but some of the hurt seeps in - the hurt she feels for him, for what he's gone through.
Hotch doesn't answer. Emily guesses from his expression that he's assessing his options, and she decides to scratch 'denial' off his list. "I was walking behind you on the stairs before. I could see inside your collar."
He flinches almost imperceptibly. Closing the open file on his desk, he studies her face, as if he's profiling her now, trying to find her weakness.
"You have to talk to someone," she insists.
"There's nothing to talk about," he says firmly. "All the significant details of the case are in my report."
"You were tortured."
Hotch rises to his feet. "I don't want to talk about this, Agent Prentiss."
She notices the way he falls back on formality, on rank - calling her by her title as a subtle reminder that he's in charge. Clearly, profiling her has told him that she responds to authority. Not this time. "You have to talk to someone," she repeats emphatically.
He pauses for a moment, then changes tactics. "You know better than anyone why I can't give Strauss any ammunition. This team is just becoming stable again. If they put me on leave, or worse..."
"Everything will fall apart." She anticipates this concern and doesn't think he's overestimating his own importance to the team. "But what's going to happen to the team if you fall apart?"
"Do you think I'm falling apart?"
The question is a challenge and she knows everything hinges on her answer. If she says no, it will support his argument that he doesn't need help. If she says yes, he'll disagree and dismiss anything she has to say.
"I think no one would know if you were falling apart until it was too late – maybe not even you."
The knock on her door doesn't wake Emily, but it does surprise her. She almost never has visitors - virtually no one even knows where she lives - and absolutely never in the middle of the night. She thinks about grabbing her sidearm from the desk drawer on her way to the front door, but doesn't, deciding she simply won't open the door if there's anything suspicious. What she sees through the peephole is shocking, but not suspicious in the least.
"Hi," she says, opening the door to Hotch. It's one a.m. and he still looks neatly pressed, though his tie has disappeared and his collar is open. His hands rest in the pockets of his coat.
"You said I should talk to someone."
Emily nods and stands aside, letting him in.
She watches him scan his surroundings and wonders what he's learning about her. Neat, sparse, slightly impersonal, she thinks, a woman who puts her career before her personal life. But then, she's sure he knew that already.
She sits on the couch and he joins her, but he doesn't look at her. She knows it's easier for him that way.
"Cigarette burns," he says dispassionately. "In the shape of the number 13."
"Because he wanted you to be his 13th victim," Emily supplies.
"I knew the team would find me. I wasn't afraid of that."
"Are you serious?" Emily can't believe even Hotch could attain that level of certainty. When he makes a decision, he doesn't second-guess it even if lives are on the line, but this was different – these were their decisions, his life on the line.
"Yes." He looks at her for the first time since he came inside, and she sees the surprise on his face that she would doubt it. "Reid was firing at the van when it pulled away and calling my name. I knew he had to have seen the license plate and the business name. Even if he hadn't seen the driver, with the other evidence we had, I believed that was enough for the team to go on. I just had to stall."
Emily considers that. She can easily believe he'd trust Reid's memory, but something in what Hotch said bothers her. "If you weren't afraid of that, what were you afraid of?"
He turns away again, and Emily knows she's struck a nerve. She waits silently for an answer.
"Of how much I wanted to kill him," Hotch finally replies, and there's a harshness in his tone she's never heard before.
He’d had that opportunity during the tense moments following their team’s arrival. Rossi had located him, untied him, and given him his second gun. They’d joined the rest of the team as they searched the building. Hotch had come face-to-face with his attacker, and he didn’t shoot. They brought him in alive.
Emily’s first instinct is to tell him that what he feels is normal. The man was a sadist who abducted and tortured him – who had abducted, tortured, and killed twelve other people. But Hotch knows that rage is a common response, so she's sure he's trying to tell her something more significant. "What made this one different?"
Hotch turns to face her. Eyes fixed on her face, he pulls his shirt aside from the open collar, revealing three faded round scars on his right shoulder. Emily glances at them, then looks back at his eyes. "Burns?"
He nods. "My father."
Hotch is silent after that. He has apparently told her everything he plans to tell her, and Emily decides it's wise not to push him. Letting people in is not something that comes easily to him; the fact that he’s told her this much shows that he was as close to the edge as she suspected. He needed a release valve, before he lost control. She is relieved that he recognized it, and maybe a little bit pleased that it was her door he knocked on tonight.
Emily leaves Hotch on the sofa and goes to the kitchen to make a pot of coffee. When she returns, he is sitting with his head in his hands. "Hotch?" She thinks he may have fallen asleep. Emily sets the coffee mugs down on the table and touches his shoulder. Hotch jolts awake with a wince, and Emily jerks back her hand. "I'm so sorry! I didn't think."
"It's alright," he says with a grimace. "It's fine."
"Have you had the wounds looked at?"
"No," he admits. "But I've got some experience with this. They'll heal."
Emily frowns. "At least you could have Haley put some-"
"Haley and I separated," he says brusquely. "Months ago."
After a moment of uncomfortable silence, he stands. "I should go. It's late."
"Hotch, wait." Emily steps in front of him, blocking the path to the door. "Let me."
He studies her face, and Emily doesn't shy away. Without a word, he lays his coat on the arm of the couch and begins to unbutton his shirt cuffs. Emily hurries to the kitchen and grabs the first aid kit from under the sink. She pulls two clean dishtowels from the drawer and fills a bowl with warm water from the sink. When she returns, he is sitting sideways on the couch with his back to her. She is momentarily overwhelmed by the sight - the strong, angular lines of his body marred by the red, rough-edged circles on his skin.
Silently, she sets to work, gently bathing each of the burns with warm water then patting it dry. She counts thirty-two separate marks forming the numbers that brand him. When she finishes cleaning the wounds, she opens the first aid kit and begins applying antibiotic cream.
"I understand it now," she finally says. She doesn't say what she understands, but she thinks he'll know what she means. She understands why he is so private, why he keeps his thoughts to himself and his emotions so tightly in check. He has to guard against identifying too strongly with the victims. On the surface, he may appear to lack compassion or empathy, but he fully comprehends their fear, pain, and helplessness.
"This case... it just hit too close to home." There's more vulnerability in his voice than she expects to hear, but of course, it comes down to the job for him. "I wasn't objective, and I not only put myself in a dangerous situation, I put Reid in jeopardy too."
“You followed a lead, Hotch. You had no way of knowing–”
“I should have waited for back-up. I made a rash decision to go in when we suspected the unsub was in the building. Anything could’ve happened.”
"But it didn’t. Reid is fine, and you'll be fine," she assures him.
"How can you be sure of that?"
Emily stops what she's doing and leans to the side until she can see his face. She might not have been sure an hour ago, but with more information, she is confident that she knows the key to holding him together. She tells him slowly and clearly. "You wanted to kill him, but you didn't."
"We leave it to the courts to punish the criminals. Our only job is to stop them."
Emily sits back and resumes tending to his injuries with a soft smile. That's the Hotch she is used to - all principle and action. "You're going to be just fine."